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Lately I have been needing to get rid of some old (and/or broken) electronics and have been struggling with the question of whether I should try to donate the electronics to someone or just drop them off at an e-waste recycling center.

On one hand, I feel that someone else could use and/or fix the device and reuse it, and I think reusing old electronics is strictly better than recycling. On the other hand, they could decide that they don't want it anymore and throw it away improperly in a trash bin. Or they extract just a part they need and throw the rest away improperly. And even if they are environmentally conscious themselves and donate the electronic to a third person, that other person may not be and throw the device away improperly. So it might be better to nip the problem in the bud and take it to the recycling center. But with the recycling center, I am not sure if the processing of the electronic also contributes negatively to the environment

Has there been any research on whether it is better to donate electronics or bring them to an e-waste recycling center? If not, has there been any guidance from any authority figure in this field?

P.S. The e-waste recycling center I use appears to be a service provided by the local government so I assume there is oversight to ensure electronics are recycled responsibly.

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Instead of donating to an individual or to a general donation center, look up nonprofits who are specifically requesting used electronics (i.e. they have an identified need and experience working with used electronics).

One example is donating used cell phones, laptops, and digital cameras to domestic abuse victims. This one organization in that space: https://ncadv.org/donate-a-phone

Matching electronics with populations who have a need will extend the life of that unit and reduce both costs and the environmental impact of buying newly manufactured phones.

One note: because these at-risk populations move frequently, and may have transportation challenges, there's no assurance that when the electronic is no longer usable that it will be taken to an electronics recycling center.

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  • This is a great suggestion and reminds me of something that happened a while ago. I had an old bike (non-electric) that I wanted to get rid of. I just advertised it on craigslist and gave it away to the first person who responded. Later someone replied to my ad and said I should give it away to a nearby non-profit where they fix up bikes and give them to people in need. Unfortunately I already gave it away and regretted not giving it to the non-profit. But now I know for the future. Oct 21, 2023 at 17:03
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I don't know of any studies on the subject but I suspect your cynicism is justified. There was a study that compared emissions from hybrid EVs with 100% electric EVs using real life usage data and it showed that people had good intentions to lower their emissions by purchasing a hybrid EV, but the majority of owners failed to charge their cars overnight regularly with the result that they drove mostly on fuel and so their emissions figures were actually worse than comparable normal ICE vehicles! So people may have good intentions, but you can't control how they behave.

You always have the option of checking with the person or organisation before you donate, and asking them to pledge to recycle properly. This might raise the probability that the e-waste ends up in the right place.

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